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Assessing the Impact of the Fiscal Stimulus

Assessing the Impact of the Fiscal Stimulus

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Published by Shelli Dawdy
Assessing the Macro Economic Impact of Fiscal Stimulus 2008
by Mark M. Zandi

121 N. Walnut Street • Suite 500 • West Chester, PA 19380 • USA help@economy.com • 866.275.3266 (inside the USA) • 610.235.5000 (outside the USA)

Assessing the Macro Economic Impact of Fiscal Stimulus 2008

The president and Congress are quickly coalescing around a fiscal stimulus plan to shore up the flagging economy. As currently envisioned, the plan is expected to cost at least $150 billion and include a sizable
Assessing the Macro Economic Impact of Fiscal Stimulus 2008
by Mark M. Zandi

121 N. Walnut Street • Suite 500 • West Chester, PA 19380 • USA help@economy.com • 866.275.3266 (inside the USA) • 610.235.5000 (outside the USA)

Assessing the Macro Economic Impact of Fiscal Stimulus 2008

The president and Congress are quickly coalescing around a fiscal stimulus plan to shore up the flagging economy. As currently envisioned, the plan is expected to cost at least $150 billion and include a sizable

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Published by: Shelli Dawdy on Oct 04, 2010
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121 N. Walnut Street • Suite 500 • West Chester, PA 19380 • USAhelp@economy.com • 866.275.3266 (inside the USA) • 610.235.5000 (outside the USA)
Assessing the Macro
 Assessing the Macro
Economic Impact of
Economic Impact of 
Fiscal Stimulus 2008
Fiscal Stimulus 2008
Mark M. Zandi
Mark M. Zandi 
Moody’s Economy.com • www.economy.com • help@economy.com • January 2008
Assessing the Macro Economic Impact of Fiscal Stimulus 2008
he president and Congress arequickly coalescing around afiscal stimulus plan to shoreup the flagging economy. As currently envisioned, the plan is expected to costat least $150 billion and include a sizabletax rebate, short-term tax incentives for  business investment, and temporary increases in unemployment insurance benefits and food stamps. This stimulus will not prevent a recession if one isalready on its way, as its benefits will not be realized until summer; however, itcould substantially mitigate the severity of any downturn. Under reasonableassumptions, the stimulus will add 1½percentage points to annualized realGDP growth during the second half of 2008. Employment will grow by an extra700,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate will be as much as a half percentage pointlower by mid-2009 than would be thecase without Washington's help.
 Why stimulus?
 With a presidentialelection fast approaching, policymakershave come to a quick consensus regarding the risks of recession and the need for fiscal stimulus. The economy is indeedstruggling. Real GDP likely grew near 1%in the fourth quarter of 2007, and theeconomy appears to be contracting inearly 2008. The job market has stalled,Christmas sales were soft, and industrialproduction has gone flat. The threat of recession is evidentin the recent substantial increase inunemployment. The jobless rate hasrisen 0.6 percentage points from its4.4% cyclical low last March to 5%in December. Recessions are alwayspreceded by such a rise, and one hasnever occurred without a recessionensuing (see Chart 1). Unemployment istypically the catalyst for a recession spiral because increased joblessness underminesconsumer confidence and thus consumer spending. Businesses respond to flagging sales by cutting back investment andpayrolls, and unemployment rises further. A negative, self-reinforcing cycle begins. A number of large state economiesare likely already in recession, including  Arizona, California, Florida, Michiganand Nevada.
These states account for afourth of national GDP. Alaska, Arkansas,Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio,Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginiaare on the edge of recession. Thesestates account for an additional 15%of national GDP. The large metro areaeconomies of the Northeast from Bostonto Washington, D.C. are still expanding, but growth is slowing sharply, particularly around New York City, which is being hurt by Wall Street’s travails. If theseeconomies begin to contract, a nationalrecession will have begun (see Chart 2). The need for fiscal stimulus isreinforced by the possibility thatmonetary policy has become less
Regional economies are determined by Moody’s Economy.com to be in recession using a methodology similar to thatdeveloped by the National Bureau of Economic Researchfor gauging national recessions. Payroll employment andindustrial production are the two principal indicators of persistent, broad-based decline in economic activity. A list of metro areas in or near recession is available on request.
Chart 1: Rising Unemployment Signal Recession
 Year-over-year % change in unemployment
-30-20-100102030405060708069 71 73 75 77 79 81 83 85 87 89 91 93 95 97 99 01 03 05 07
Source: BLS
Chart 2: State Economies in or Near Recession
In recessionNear recessionExpansion
Moody’s Economy.com • www.economy.com • help@economy.com • January 2008
effective in stimulating growth. The mostimmediate conduit between monetary policy and the economy runs throughthe housing market. Housing is themost interest rate-sensitive sector of theeconomy, and historically it would receivea quick boost from monetary easing. This boost will be much more mutedtoday given the ongoing problems in themortgage securities market. Issuance of  bonds backed by subprime, alternative-A,and jumbo mortgage loans has collapsed(see Chart 3). Save for conforming fixed-rate loans, which are only loosely tiedto Fed actions, lenders are unable andunwilling to extend mortgage credit at any interest rate. The Federal Reserve may also be constrained in its response to theeconomy’s problems because of concerns with inflation, which remains elevateddespite the weak economy. Commodity prices are at record levels, the exchange value of the U.S. dollar is falling, importprices are up and labor productivity has slowed. Financial markets have todate been disappointed with the FederalReserve’s reticent response to events.Investors may be even more disappointedin coming weeks as they are pricing in anear 2% federal funds rate target by latethis year, down from 3.5% currently (seeChart 4). Well-timed and temporary fiscalstimulus could jump-start growth andgive monetary authorities more latitude tofocus on longer-term inflation objectives. The use of fiscal policy to supporta flagging economy has also regainedcredibility given its successful deploymentin 2001. A valid criticism of fiscalstimulus is that it must be fashionedand implemented through the politicalprocess, making it difficult to put together a plan quickly enough to support astruggling economy. Historically, theaction often took effect well after theeconomy had recovered, making suchstimulus counterproductive. This criticism should be at leastpartially stilled by the relatively rapidresponse of policymakers during and after the 2001 recession. Washington enacteda tax rebate, extended unemploymentinsurance benefits beyond the usual 26 weeks, accelerated depreciation for new  business investment, and imposed other smaller tax cuts and benefits. The cost was approximately $100 billion, equalto about 1% of GDP. While subject tomuch debate then and afterward, thisstimulus likely mitigated the severity of that downturn.
How big a plan?
President Bush’scurrently proposed fiscal stimulus planis a comparable 1% of GDP, equal to justunder $150 billion. This is big enoughto provide a meaningful economic boost. Assuming the $150 billion is distributedthis summer, and that just half is actually spent by year’s end, it would add well over a percentage point to annualized real GDPgrowth during the second half of 2008.How big a boost, of course, depends onthe details of the stimulus plan. Another way to gauge the magnitudeand importance of the $150 billionstimulus package is to consider thelooming potential increase in the cost of gasoline this spring. If oil prices remainnear their current $90 per barrel, gasolineprices will increase sharply once refiners begin gearing up for this summer’s driving season—a time when refiners’ operating margins rise with consumer demand. If refiners’ margins return to their long-run historical norms, a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline will sell for $4, up from just over $3 currently. Since every 1-centper gallon increase in gasoline prices costsconsumers more than $1 billion annually, Americans’ driving bills are set to increase by $100 billion. That acts very much like a tax increase; if households must spend more todrive, they have less to spend on everything else. The impact is even more perniciousthan a tax increase, since tax proceedstypically finance government spending, whereas much of what is spent on gasolinegoes to overseas energy producers. The $150 billion stimulus plan canalso be thought of as making up for thedifference between current consensusexpectations this year and the economy’spotential growth. While economists havequickly marked down their forecasts,according to the Blue Chip survey theconsensus is for real GDP to advanceless than 2% this year. Most economistshave not assumed the passage of a fiscalstimulus plan, and most put potentialgrowth at below 3%. If economists arecorrect about growth this year, then a$150 billion stimulus plan would simply put the economy back closer to its trend.If economists are wrong, it is likely they  will have erred on the side of optimism,and the economy is already in recession.In that case fiscal stimulus would beespecially helpful.
 Tax rebate.
 The goal of a fiscalstimulus plan is to maximize the near-term boost to economic growth without weakening the economy’s longer-term
Chart 3: The Mortgage Securities Market Shuts Down
Bond issuance, $ bil, annualized
02004006008001,00001 02 03 04 05 06 07H1 07H2
Jumbo Alt-ASubprime
Chart 4: The Federal Reserve Must Turn More Aggresive
Federal funds future contract for Sepetember2008
2.502.753.003.253.503.754.004.254.50Sep-07 Oct-07 Nov-07 Dec-07 Jan-08
Source: CBOT

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